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Circa: Première partie.

*I was actually saving my story about my shop, Circa, for my book but I decided, what the hell, I’ll share it now with all of you. So this is an actual excerpt from my book titled, And So It Is.


I used to have a shop. A chic little antique shop named Circa in Santa Barbara, California. My father ponied up all the money for it as hush money. Apparently, unbeknownst to our entire family, yet known to the rest of the world, my father was in the midst of an eight year long affair with a woman named Laura. So gross. My father thought it would be a good idea (a brilliant idea) if he handed over copious amounts of cash so that my mother would go to France for weeks at a time on buying trips and then dive wholeheartedly into opening a shop, thus distracting her from her deteriorating marriage. It worked… For a while.

My mother and I had always wanted to open a shop. We had the exact same taste, same style and same aesthetic. We were both great buyers and she was great at merchandising that which we bought and then in turn, I was a great salesperson. We decided, first things first, we needed to go on a buying trip in France. Paris was the first stop. We decided that our modus operandi would be to only buy that which we would have in our own homes and not just buy something that we knew would sell. Not speaking a word of French yet years of experience bargaining, off to the Marche aux Puces we went. The Puces is the mecca of flea markets in France. Armed with our vision for the shop, we spent two weeks curating our inventory. We did not do this alone… No, no, no. We had little Gracie to help. Still in elementary school, Gracie followed us to every booth, every stall and documented every item that we bought, its provenance, and the price. She did all of this in skinny jeans and Ugg boots. My mother, never without a chocolate croissant in hand, and I swept through the flea market with precision and a definitive mission. By the end of the two weeks we had acquired 19th-century leather Italian dining chairs, Moroccan side chairs, monastery chandeliers, plaster friezes, plaster busts, 19th-century green faience, altar sticks, candlesticks, gilt 19th-century mirrors, statues, Napoleon III chaise longes, rock crystal chandeliers, paintings, desks, chest of drawers, settees, banquettes, and every little accessory that we could get our overly excited paws on.

After Paris, we proceeded to politely pillage our way through the flea markets of L'isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France, asking my father for an increase in our budget as we had already blown our allotted wad in Paris. My philandering father agreed, not surprisingly. What we discovered about the flea markets in this little town was that it was better than Paris! It was as if we had cut out the middleman. The items were more unique and the prices were even better. Gracie continued her services not begrudgingly because she knew there was a prize at the end.… A new dress from Bonpoint. My child can be bought. During some of our more lengthy negotiations with some of the vendors, Gracie would use this opportunity to do her homework and I could not have been more proud of her. Gracie, to this day, still reminds me of how I “forced her to work full-time and continue her schoolwork at the tender age of 12.” My retort? “It’s called experience, look it up.”

This is me trolling through the Marche aux Puces. Jesus Christ, I look fat!

After everything was bought, paid for and organized on the shipping container, all we could do was… Wait. The shipping estimated time was two months. This was fine with us because we had one slight problem. We had no shop yet. After months of searching for a suitable shop, we were continually left with disappointment. Nothing spoke to us. It was either the wrong building, too big, too small or too ugly. Until one day. One day the antique gods smiled upon us and we were notified that our favorite little building in Santa Barbara/Montecito was up for rent. We jumped on it immediately. It was ridiculously expensive and on top of that needed some remodeling. Who cares? I guess that’s the price my father had to pay to have a dual life. My mother and I set to work the very first day making the shop our own. The first floor we decided would be our Parisian salon with black lacquered walls, a fireplace, black and white hardwood floors, bookcases trimmed with gold leaf, gilt mirrors, paintings and all of our trés chic Parisian findings. My mother and I know how to roll up our sleeves and get dirty. The entire neighborhood hated us from day one because the overwhelming scent of lacquer wafting from our shop for an entire week is not exactly pleasant especially with a bustling restaurant next door. Then came the paint fumes from the hand-painted black and white floors. I could remember being down on my hands and knees with a teeny tiny paintbrush touching up the floors on the eve of our opening party nearly fainting from the fumes. The second floor was dedicated to our Italian finds. We hired our brilliant painter, Enrique, to paint the walls an ocre teint to complement our Italian leather chairs, colorful paisley fabrics, Anichini hand towels with 12 inch fringe, and antique Tuscan furniture. We decided that the awnings for the exterior windows should mimic those of our beloved Palais-Royale in Paris. Mission accomplished. After a month of interior work, the shop was ready. Perfect timing because we received a notification that our container would be in my mother’s driveway the following week with an allotted time of two hours to empty the entire container!

As promised, before dawn on a foggy Saturday morning in Santa Barbara, our container arrived. Unbeknownst to me, containers do not arrive with 12 men with white glove service. Quite the opposite. We were on our own to unload, unpack, cross reference the purchases, and organize everything by ourselves! Not five minutes later did my mother give the gardeners new job descriptions. They were now antique movers. After a lot of screaming, yelling, threatening, and bossy behavior, the container was unloaded and was now in the middle of the driveway. Gracie, in her pajamas, continued her work and expertly checked in every piece of furniture. To our amazement, nothing was lost and nothing was broken. Shipping miracle.

When it comes to decorating, my mother is like an idiot savant. When she is in this mode, the best thing to do is just leave her alone. She had a vision for the shop and I knew that it would be brilliant when she had finished. She single-handedly with one worker, moved furniture, laid rugs, hung mirrors, chandeliers, paintings and drapes, designed vignettes, and overnight… Voilà! Circa was born.

Our next project was to design our ad for Santa Barbara Magazine. This ad needed to set the tone for our shop. After weeks of failure, I told my mother I needed to be alone to figure this out. As usual, a stroke of genius came to me. Keep it simple, stupid. Keep it simple, stupid. Yes! This is what I needed to do so I decided to use a completely unplanned, esoteric, organic photo of Gracie that I had taken on a whim in the Palais-Royale in Paris. If I do say so myself, I thought it was rather brilliant. It looked French, exciting and fun. Doors would open October 1, 2008.

 Our ads and article for my favorite Santa Barbara Magazine.

 With respects to our friends and family, we decided to have a private opening party so they could see the shop and have first dibs on the merchandise. We decided on an evening soirée, French style. I hired waiters and waitresses and dressed them in historical French costumes. French music played as guests sipped champagne from coupe glasses. Baby lamb chops were served with miniature French onion soup and tomatoes/mozzarella/basil salad. For dessert, authentic French macaroons, of course. The party was a success and during the party we managed one sale… $11,000 worth of dishes. Champagne combined with shopping is always a good idea.

 My mother and I. Look! I can walk!
 Isn't my mother pretty?
 The amazing flowers were half the party budget.
 I can spot lots of friends, a couple of douche bags and a couple of famous musicians, can you?
 My handsome husband, David.
 Gracie ( with braces in her awkward phase ) and I. Don't tell Gracie that I put this picture up. I think she looks adorable.
 My friend, Jean... one of the chicest women in Santa Barbara.
 Yolanda Foster, David Foster and I.
 I painted these floors.
 Our white peacock, Ursula.
C'est moi.

After working into the wee hours of the night, cleaning up after the party and getting ready for our grand opening the very next morning, I realized that I had fulfilled a dream. A dream to have my own shop, with my own merchandise, with my own aesthetic and on my own terms. I felt lucky, privileged, grateful and excited for the future. Circa was a dream realized. Sales were stellar and I could hardly keep up with inventory as it was flying out of the doors. I sold my little heart out. I think my success lied in the fact that I loved each and every object at our shop and conveyed that love to the customers. My enthusiasm paid off. Circa was extremely successful. However, over the next two years the economy crashed and the highfalutin customers were no longer. Everyone was on a budget. Gross. There was no way I was going to just give away our merchandise so we decided to close the shop and take everything home. This decision was compounded by the fact my father was involved in some shady business dealings and the shop was threatened with lawsuits. Thanks, Dad. Circa was closed in 2009 but not without great memories and a lifetime of experience.

So that is the history of Circa. Tomorrow, in Part 2, let’s take a stroll down Circa memory lane and take a look at the actual merchandise in the shop! So fun, so fun!
Photos by Wendy Jenson and Santa Barbara Magazine and me.


  1. What an amazing story Ellie! And yes, your mom is stunningly gorgeous! No you did not look fat😀❤️❤️

  2. Yes your mother is gorgeous, your photo is perfect and I adored those plates. Did you live in the house that the painter lived in on Summerland?

  3. Oh my gosh, fantastic, yes, Gracie looks & is adorable, (I wore braces too and a stupid black rubber night guard, hated it = non complying patient), your Bunny of coarse: dapper, YES your mother and YOU are gorgeous, pretty, no Gorgeous....I am speechless how beautiful Circa exciting to me for you. I have concrete floors and constantly thinking of painting precise your lines, WOW...not sure I have the patience, but with my budget, (gross) I likely will be the laborer....what a result indeed! I love your shop, perfect building as you shared! I would kill to party with you, Happy Birthday to you, I don't know the exact date, Happy Birthday fancy-schmancy Beautiful Girl! XOXO

  4. opps, forgot, PERFECT design ad for Santa Barbara Magazine, who better than Gracie? NO ONE, simply perfect! :-)))

  5. Another great post, Ellie. What a fabulous shop and opening party. I love the pic of you and Gracie. I am waiting breathlessly fo r you to finish your book. What an incredible story you have to tell.

  6. Hi Ellie you were so fortunate to have been able to fulfill your dream, what a beautiful space, I love the black and white floors and yes your mom is gorgeous but so are you.
    Thank you for sharing this piece of your life with us before writing your book and yes happy birthday but I want the exact date

  7. I'm just bolled-over by your talent, zest for life, your accomplishments, your friends and now your bravely, never ending goals you are yet to accomplish. I bow and take my hat off to you.

  8. YOUR shop is where I always find a gem now!It is a clothing store/gift shop, I think............
    Last summer I bought a pair of MULES in SUEDE encrusted with jewels.I paid WAY TOO MUCH.But heck my birthday was fast approaching and it's obvious to me now something was drawing me into this shop which lacks your beautiful paint now!I will refer to them as my

    ELEANOR SLIPPERS from here on out!
    I remember ALL the ADS except the opening one with GRACIE!!As your opening date is my SON NICHOLAS'S birthday!October FIRST.He would have been 19 that day.This year he turns 26!!
    As for the PARISIAN market..........I swear you are walking right past the TAXIDERMY stand I saw this past October where the lady had another URSULA waiting from a new HOME!!!
    GRACIE, is ADORABLE..............what an education you and GRANDMAMA have given HER!You look like YOUR MOTHER...............I know you have heard that BEFORE!
    As for that FATHER of YOUR's........................HIS LOSS.SOMETIMES MEN just don't get what they HAVE.I had an idiot FATHER too..................lets add that to the list of similarities SHALL WE!!
    Your merchandise was GLORIOUS...........those chairs the books the urns.........EVERYTHING I SEE HERE SPEAKS TO ME!It's probably a GOOD thing I did not walk into that shop of yours as I would have been BESIDE MYSELF!
    I canNOT wait for your BOOK....................

  9. Hi Ellie,
    Your blog post from early February ("The Wow Factor" about foyers and entryways) still resonates. I was compelled to move things around immediately after reading that. Form and color and light -- decorating is a playground for adults. Not that clothes and food don't also inspire. Rooms are where we live. The energy of the decor, I'm talking about feng shui here, affects our mood, our appreciation of life, our interpretation of reality. It brings in the energy and history of other people's lives, or not, if we so choose. Budget or no budget, I'm always moving the furniture around. I'm voting to see more inspiring takes on rooms through your eyes. Maybe stuff about the geometry of empty space and how we feel when we move through it, too.
    You are a golden ray of sunshine.
    Elizabeth Word

  10. Gorgeous, Gorgeous, Gorgeous --- You, Gracie, your Mom, the shop --- I want it all --Les mirroirs, la chaise longue, etc. What talent you have, thank you so much for sharing it all -- you are a treasure.
    Love and Hugs,
    Sabrina in Port Townsend

  11. How much I enjoyed reading this story about your exciting achievement. I could never bring myself to use the lucky like some of the other comments. That is not luck, it's long hours of hard work and determination to make your dream come true, only to be squashed by the downfall of others. Unfortunately something we can have no control of. You are one very strong & forthright lady and I admire you.( even your strong language from time to time ) :0 :) Enjoy your weekend.

  12. Now, see? How can I possibly respond appropriately to this as a post? It is practically a booby trap for me to gush endlessly but I won't fall into it! No! When it comes out in its book form I will be able to pore over each photo repeatedly from the comfort of my beaten up club chair as is required because...everything, everything is perfect. Voila.

    And yes, your Mother is very beautiful. Like Mother, like Daughter. And of course, that goes for Gracie as well.

    Sending so much Love to you, as always...

  13. Stunning. You do make me laugh x

  14. Loved the article and the pictures. I opened my own shop in north suburban Chicago 18 years ago - a contemporary, functional craft gallery. Mostly crafts from New England and England. Everything I carried was functional and that made a difference; I was selling beauty that could be used. I adored my shop, mostly because it was MY creation. You can't imagine the sense of satisfaction I received from selling an item. Whether it was a $3 British greeting card or a $1000 glass bowl, each sale was a vindication of my taste.

    I'm looking forward to reading your book. Do you have a publication date? You've dropped fascinating tidbits about your family and friends. I'd like to read the whole story.

  15. Thank you for sharing another interesting chapter from your life (book) - the honesty and details always draw me in. As with all your chapters, stories and posts, I especially enjoy your underlying passion and your devotion to your daughter. Hugs from the States.

  16. Simply, fabulous!

  17. Ellie, what a gorgeous shop and yes, you and your beautiful Mother made the amazing dream come true. I only wish I has been able to visit before it closed!

    The Arts by Karena
    A New Gallery in Town!

  18. Amazing endeavor!
    So happy you were able to realize your dream!
    Exquisite taste, fabulous party. Gorgeous women you and your mum. You look more like twins!

  19. Hi Ellie, Being an antiques dealer-------I love this shop!! It is gorgeous (as is David). Yes, 2009 hit all of us incredibly hard. I'm still kicking (by the skin of my teeth), but it has been a tough ride.
    Can't wait for the next installment. Love!! Mary

  20. What a gorgeous shop! It's obvious you were meant to live in Paris! Seeing David Foster there reminds me of Skylark, his first album in Canada, which I remember and still treasure, and which, frustratingly, does not seem to be available on iTunes. It was the soundtrack to my summer one year...a looooong time ago! cheers, Hope in Calgary

  21. What a dream come true! It's sad that it ended, it looked truly exceptional. Your mother is very pretty indeed, and so are you. Gracie was a little dolly. Were those Beach Boys in the back right hand corner?

  22. Thank you for such a wonderful blog. I love reading the different posts and have found your resilience and zest for life inspiring whilst not sugar coating the really shitty parts! I thought this post was great and would have loved to have seen the shop and be tempted to buy. Your Mum looks like a real stylish and talented lady. Loved the ad with Gracie it really set the scene. Thanks for the gift of sharing.

  23. I honestly thought I was going to faint the first time I came into your shop!

    I adored it; and adored everything in it!

    I think; ("of all the things I have lost I miss my mind the most!" My friend dody Says!!!!)

    what I DO KNOW is that I came to your parents' house on Eucalyptus Hill and bought my plates, my chaises, and a bunch of stuff that was fabulous from your store! is true! There was not one item in that store that was not fabulous.......not one that was not completely unusual.....and not one that one could find anywhere in this continent!

    Ellie is correct! I was going "great guns" as a decorator......and then.....many of my "tycoon clients" ceased to be "tycoons"!!! (Thank the Lord; I still had a few who remained); but a store is so different from a "decorator"!!!

    A store has to have "stock" and inventory"; so if you sell everything in there....back to Paris we just takes time!

    In Santa Barbara we are still mourning the loss of Ellie and her mother's store! Nothing has (or will ever) take it's place!

    (I am so sorry to hear that about your Dad) I met him......he seemed ashamed of something...when I met him at their house! I had some bad vibes; I liked you so much I dismissed them!!! There you go! Positive wins over negative every single time!!!!
    You actually delivered the chaises ; I think with your new French husband....could that be? They had arms that could hold drinks! Green!! Wicker!!!

    all the rest of the treasures I bought I carried out to my car....from the house on Eucalyptus Hill!

    I adored you at the time.....I adore you still! And you said...."I wish I had met you before I decided to move to are so nice!"

    I will never forget was such a compliment....and it made me sad that others had not been so nice.....(I always find that really sad and upsetting!!!) I hear it all the time!

  24. Oh your store looks like it was such a treasure! i love the black lacquer and the staircase! I'm sorry the store had to close but so glad you were able to realize a dream. I love the name. At least some true beauty came from your dad's wrongdoing. I'm sure it's the prettiest use of hush money ever!

  25. Circa was beautiful! I only wish I had seen it in person! Your decision to stock only the lovelies you would have in your own home, obviously, was your key to success. When one has the instinct and taste that you and your mother have, that decision was your only choice, and a wise one.
    I always look forward to your posts, despite the subject.

  26. This was wonderful- and now I can't wait till the book comes out! Gorgeous things in your shop, but my favorite photo is the one of you and Gracie. You both look beautiful and Gracie is incandescent. She looks proud of you!

  27. Love this story! And yes, your mother, you, and Gracie are beautiful! Your husband is not so bad either (lol). I can hardly wait for Part 2.

  28. Happy Birthday! Mine is on the 26 so you are an aries? Wow, now I know why I love to follow you! Hope you had a great day.
    Girl from Québec city

  29. I don't want this post to slip by without saying how beautiful the photos are. What a great party...douche bags and all (is one wearing red?) As far as musicians (D.Foster aside), is that Mike Love in the back? In any case, your energy and enthusiasm is palpable.

    I looked up something about Aries "As an Aries born on March 23rd, you have a truly passionate and enthusiastic personality. Your friends and family would be the first to attest to your passion. If something strikes your interest or is a challenge you feel to be worthwhile, there is nothing that can stand in the way of what you wish to accomplish. The energy that you display in your personal matters is appealing to those around, which explains why you have so many followers. Whether or not your realize it, you are a natural leader." I couldn't have said it better myself. p.s. I hope your deliriously hungover from yesterday's birthday excitement. XO

  30. Missing the fabulous Ellie today on her Birthday! What a special lady-missed so very much!